Monday 29 December 2014

My best reads of 2014

Of the fifty or so books I read this year, these come out as my top ten. They are not only books published this year. As always I choose them not necessarily on literary merit but enjoyment and the impact they had on me. Here they are in the order I read them and how that came about.

The Buffalo Thief  - Yojana Sharma. I heard something about this author and looked her up. I liked the sound of this book and ordered a copy. I wasn't disappointed.

After the Fall - Charity Norman. This was a selection made while browsing in my local bookshop.

The Ghost of Lily Painter - Caitlin Davies.  Caitlin was a speaker at The Finchley Literary Festival and needless to say I bought a copy - especially interesting as it had local Finchley references.

And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini. I gave this to my daughter as she loves his books and she lent it to me.

The Aftermath - Rhidian Brook. Another bookshop browse. I have often heard Rhidian's Thought for the Day and guessed his novel would be an interesting read.

Someone Else's Skin - Sarah Hilary. I had linked with Sarah via Twitter and Facebook as fellow writers. When Sarah published this, her first novel, I had no idea it would take the book world by storm.

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer. My daughter, a mental health nurse, bought this. She thought it very authentic. I borrowed her copy.

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut. When I went to the book section of our local recycling centre to take some very tatty books which would not be worthy of a charity shop, I spotted this classic and rehomed it.

Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese. This was a birthday present from my daughter. She chose it because she knows I love books set in other lands.

Life after Life - Kate Atkinson. Another bookshop browse (after all you can't buy only one book at a time).

Here's to great reading in 2015.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Wishing you all a Happy Christmas...

I wish my readers a happy Christmas - whether you celebrate this or not - and hope that 2015 makes our world a more peaceful place.

This is my Christmas tree: it represents many wonderful hours of reading, which has taken me around the world, back and forward in time, has made me laugh and cry and made me think about any number of issues. It has accompanied me on my own travels and has comforted me when things were dark.

Thank you to all the wonderful writers who helped create my Christmas tree.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas...part 2

Childhood Memories of a West Country Christmas.

If I looked carefully I could spot exciting looking parcels piled up on my mother's tall wardrobe. Signs appeared on my sisters' bedroom doors: 'Do Not Enter' or 'Please knock.' Rustles of paper smoothed from last year's presents accompanied shrieks of 'Don't look!' Soon presents began to appear beneath the Christmas tree. It was easy to identify those from Judy because they were the most imaginatively wrapped and tied in tinsel bows with coiled ends. My own were rather lumpy with lots of Sellotape. This year there were tiny presents with the tags saying 'With love from Stephen' in my mother's handwriting, because he was only three months old.

At last the school term ended and excitement mounted. When I helped unpack the large cardboard carton from the grocery delivery I found boxes of Turkish Delight and jellied fruits, nets of mixed nuts and boxes of dates bearing pictures of camels beneath palm trees. I loved to see these far away places in my mind and imagine visiting them.

One evening we heard the sound of singing: the carol singers had arrived. The front door was thrown open to 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' with the singers' breath pluming in the cold night air. As they crowded into the hall they began on one of my favourites, 'The Holly and the Ivy' finishing with the very best: 'Silent Night'. My mother and sisters handed round mince pies and hot drinks, while the mistletoe attracted stolen kisses and giggles amongst the singers.

With just two days to go, my father went to the local market and returned bearing an enormous turkey. My mother plucked and eviscerated it and lay it the roasting tin in the cold pantry. Would it fit into the oven? The next day I helped pick Brussels sprouts and select potatoes from the shed. My sister, Colleen, peeled and cut the potatoes into chunks and placed them in cold water while Alison prepared the sprouts, putting them in a saucepan with a tightly fitting lid. Everything was ready.

That evening we all sat around the blazing fire, the presents lay expectantly beneath the tree and for once bedtime could not come too soon. Would I see Father Christmas? Of course I knew the reality but never had I spotted my parents delivering the gifts to the stocking hanging on the end of my bed. Pyjamas on, I climbed up on the window sill to look out into the night. Would it snow? The weather forecast was predicting it. Please let it snow.

I awoke early in the morning and could make out the satisfyingly lumpy shape of a filled stocking hanging on the end of my bed. I knew it was still early because all was silent outside. Light on, I woke Alison and together we tipped the brightly packaged parcels on to our beds along with the familiar apple, with a shilling stuck in it, from our neighbour and the tangerines and nuts in the tip of the toe. Delights of chocolate, coloured pens, crayons and colouring books, story books and toy animals for my farm set were unwrapped while Alison found books, stationery, toiletries and accessories as befitted her twelve years but the chocolate was exactly the same. As we tasted the chocolate we heard the hum of the electric milking machine start up. As always, our father had an early start. Cows needed milking and animals needed to be fed as on every other day. We made our way down to the kitchen for a light breakfast, while our mother battled with stuffing the turkey and checked there were sufficient potatoes and sprouts.

His morning chores completed, my father, carrying the daily gallon jug of milk and a smaller jug of cream, came in for his well-earned breakfast. He then changed in to his Sunday suit and took my sisters to the morning service while I helped set the table, both leaves extended, in the sitting room. I spread the white cloth, usually reserved for Sundays, and set out the cutlery with a cracker at each place. By the time everyone was home from church, the kitchen was steamy with roast turkey and the pudding was having its final two hours. Father sharpened the carving knife and carved the turkey. Everyone carried their own plate piled high with turkey, crisp roast potatoes, sprouts and carrots, bread sauce and gravy to the dining room. Father said grace and we all tucked in. Stephen lay in his carrycot. Next year he would be able to join in.

Plates cleared, our mother brought in the pudding with a sprig of holly on the top. The jug of fresh cream accompanied it. We pulled crackers and read out the silly jokes and wore the paper hats which slid off at every opportunity. After dinner we sat around the fire while the family presents were exchanged: toys, games, books and clothes. We played the games, modelled the clothes and began reading the books. The huge box of chocolates from our neighbour was passed around and I waited my turn in agony in case someone chose the Turkish Delight or the Orange Crème but to my relief both were still there, only to give me the terrible decision of which to choose.

We played consequences and charades and as darkness fell, my father changed back into his working clothes for the afternoon milking, Judy and Colleen went to help with the feeding and bedding the animals for the night while Alison and I helped wash up and set the table for tea later on. Somehow there would be room for turkey sandwiches, fruit trifle and Christmas cake.

Before bed each of us arranged our presents in a pile, with a smaller pile for Stephen, to be enjoyed all over again tomorrow. Tired and happy I went to bed wishing it could be Christmas every day, but I knew that next year I would have anther lovey Christmas just like the all the others I could remember. In the night the snow began to fall.

Monday 1 December 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas...part 1

Memories of a West Country Christmas. I grew up on a farm in south Gloucestershire in the 60s. It was a way of life that has gone forever.

When I reached home, red cheeked after the mile and a half walk from the bus in the cold sharp wind, I could smell a warm spiciness in the kitchen. My mother was making the Christmas puddings. The mixture was waiting in the large china bowl with the wooden spoon, ready for me to give it a stir and make a wish - and taste a little bit. I helped spoon the mixture into several smaller china basins and my mother tied large pieces of cotton cloth over the tops making a handle from the ends. Tomorrow the kitchen would be a warm haze of steam while they sat for hours in the large galvanised steamer, the water at a steady simmer.

Christmas had begun, but it was still an achingly long time to wait for an eight year old. Gazing into the toy shop on the way home from school where I changed buses I'd already picked out some items for my Christmas list; mostly things to add to my toy farm and miniature garden. I planned what to buy for my three big sisters and new baby brother and wondered how far my savings would stretch.

The next day there was more mixing and tasting: the cake. My mother always left plenty of the rich and fruity mixture in the bowl to be scraped out and eaten raw. At the weekend my eldest sister, Judy, would carefully ice and decorate it with coloured lines of icing spelling 'Happy Christmas' and green marzipan holly leaves and red berries. The smell of the cake baking was complemented by the fresh aroma from the annual crate of oranges. Each brightly coloured fruit was wrapped in tissue proclaiming its provenance from an exotic sunny country. This year there was a crate of apples too. Every evening each member of the family would choose a fruit to be eaten after tea in front of the roaring log fire.

Mince pies, with the mince oozing out, were baked and stored in tins for visitors. Stu, the postman, his pipe clamped firmly in his teeth while he rode his rounds on his Post Office bicycle came laden with cards and the occasional parcel, but he still had time for a cup of coffee. The sweet aroma of his pipe tobacco lingered in the air after he had gone.

Judy retrieved the Christmas decorations from the musty cupboard beneath the stairs and examined them, selecting those she deemed fit for another year. This year she added baubles and tinsel leftover from her Christmas window display at the department store where she worked as a display artist. The crepe streamers might just do once more. Strings were pinned into the sitting room’s old walls to hold the numerous cards that were arriving. Those from our mother’s friends and relations in Australia came in the first batch, their pictures of koalas and kookaburras contrasting with robins in the snow and carol singers outside quaint English churches.

The arrival of the Christmas tree brought a new aroma into the house; its sprucy scent  mingling with the rest. The fairy lights, as always, didn’t work the first time but patient testing of each minute bulb to find the culprit was rewarded and the colours shone out once more. This year Judy made a star for the top of the tree, declaring the fairy doll to be too old-fashioned. Our father came in from his farm chores with two fine bundles of mistletoe cut down from apple trees in the orchard. While my sisters hung the smaller one from the light fitting in the centre of the sitting-room he fixed the large one to sway from the ceiling in the hall. Everybody helped cut the holly bearing bright red berries and arranged it around the room, with shrieks when fingers were stabbed by its dark shining prickly leaves.

The whine of the bench saw in the shed started up every evening as our father cut more logs to be piled up in the log baskets for the winter fires. Ash logs burnt the best. Sometimes I would watch, not needing to be told to stand well back out of  danger, as the sharp teeth tore into the wood. The logs smelt of woodland walks.

Friday 17 October 2014

The Possibilities Are Endless....

In 2005, 45 year old musician, Edwyn Collins, had a major stroke. He spent six months in hospital struggling with mobility, memory and communication problems. Suffering from dysphasia his only words were 'yes', 'no', 'Grace Maxwell' (his wife's name) and a recurrent utterance 'The possibilities are endless.'

I was lucky enough to win tickets to the première of the film The Possibilities Are Endless at BFI on Southbank on October 11th, courtesy of InterAct Stroke Support, which I blogged about here in honour of my friend Annabel, an InterAct reader, who died four years ago.

As a speech and language therapist I have worked with many people who, like Edwyn, are dysphasic after a stroke so the film had a special resonance for me. My friend who accompanied me to the première had set up a number of activity groups for dysphasic people in Vancouver and further afield in British Columbia, Canada.  I was pleased that Connect and Speakability were given mentions in the Q & A session after the film - these two charities give great practical support to dysphasic people, although I cannot omit saying that the chief support for anybody who has a stroke in UK apart from family and friends is, of course, the NHS.

I have witnessed numerous journeys of recovery; some amazing, some much more mundane but all required hard work and perseverance. Most people don't get their stories heard but at last here is a documentary that follows one of them. You can read my review of the film for InterAct Stroke Support here.

View the trailer.

For more info on the film see Possibilities Facebook page here

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Facing the Dragons

Last night I received a call from Rosie Canning.

'You've won,' she said. For a moment or two I wondered what on earth she meant. 'The Dragons.'

In May, The Finchley Literary Festival held a Dragon's Pen event where 14 writers each had 5 minutes in which to pitch a novel or short stories to three formidable dragons. In reality, Gillian Stern, Cari Rosen and Mary Musker were all very supportive of our writing with great immediate feedback, minus any fire breathing. One writer would be selected for some mentoring.

I am thrilled to be chosen as the writer who will now be able to receive some mentoring and have replicated Gillian's very kind words in her email.

We three Dragons are delighted to let you know that Lindsay Bamfield has won this year's Finchley Literary Festival's Dragon's Pen for her novel-in-progress Do Not Exceed Fifty.

Lindsay writes extremely well. Her narrative voice is engaging and convincing and we were impressed with the flow of the story, the immediacy of the voice, the structure of the narrative and the tone of her dialogue. Her internal and external observation is excellent and we found ourselves drawn in to Xanthe's life, eager to know if her quest to 'find a man' works out. There is an effortless tone to her writing - a fiendishly difficult skill to pull off.

Lindsay will now have the opportunity to be mentored by Gillian Stern, an editor and writer for Bloomsbury, Orion and Penguin.

In addition, we are also awarding a runner-up spot to Anne Oatley, for her novel-in-progress Blue Devil. We were excited by the strength and originality of her writing, which is taut, intriguing and surprising. Anne will also be given the opportunity to be mentored by Gillian.

We loved being Dragons and over the next couple of days, will be sending some feedback to all the writers who entered. Thank you for having us and we hope to be back next year. 

Gillian, Cari and Mary

I'm really looking forward to the next step, which will be quite a new experience for me, although of course, Greenacre Writers members have critiqued my work in the past which I found very beneficial - as well as sometimes challenging. Their input certainly helped me be able to present something worthy of the Dragons.  
Congratulations to runner up Anne Oatley. We are both very fortunate to be selected as I know we were up against some pretty formidable opposition.
Signing off so I can go and practise jumping so I won't be exaggerating when I say I'm over the moon.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Do we own our characters?

All writers of fiction create characters. Some we love, some we hate, some we kill off. We do with them whatever we wish but once their stories are read by others, what then? Do we still own our characters or do we give them freely to our readers? 

We know that fiction will be interpreted differently by readers and so our characters will be viewed in a number of ways. No matter how well we have written them, readers will react differently to them depending on a multitude of factors. 

When a chapter of my work was being critiqued, the critique group agreed that the plot needed a shake-up. Someone made a suggestion which horrified me. Because I knew my character would never do that! She just wouldn’t. I had assumed from the way I had crafted her that this would be a given! However whether my writing was poorly executed or my critic’s understanding of people was limited is a separate issue; I was able to make changes to the chapter with my character true to herself. 

But supposing this writer was to write a sequel? (Assuming the original was ever published, of course.) What might my character end up doing?

I have just read Longbourn by Jo Baker. Written from the point of view of the maid in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I began reading the book with great interest. However by the middle I found it less convincing. The backstory seemed to me somewhat implausible (although I am aware that, without giving any story away, the situation at the centre of the plot often did happen). While I was reading, all I could think was what would Jane Austen think of the story ascribed to one of her main characters? Would she be horrified or would she say, ‘Well, yes, it doesn’t surprise me at all.’ Jane Austen was not unaware of the issues raised – they are mentioned in more than one of her books, but would this particular character have behaved in that way?

I looked up readers’ reviews on a well-known book site. They were mostly positive but one who gave it a one star rating said of this character ‘he would never have done that.’ The reviewer’s indignation flies off the screen and I can’t help but agree. 

There are literally hundreds of spin offs, sequels and re-writes of Pride and Prejudice: the first I read were Emma Tenant’s back in the 90s. I thought they were awful but I can’t really remember why other than I didn’t think this writer really understood the behaviour of people like the Darcys. I also recently read Death Comes to Pemberley and was totally unimpressed. PD James devotes a lot of the book explaining and justifying characters’ behaviour in Pride and Prejudice – if we have read it we know why they behaved in the way they did. Jane Austen made it quite clear. It adds nothing to our understanding of P&P, and in my opinion, the murder story is a very weak plotline.

The Austen Project has commissioned six well-known authors to write updated versions of Jane Austen’s six completed novels. Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, and Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid have been published so far with Pride and Prejudice by US writer Curtis Sittenfeld coming out shortly and Emma by Alexander McCall Smith soon after. Will characters conceived in the late 18th and early 19th century make successful jumps to the 21st? Will these versions add anything to Austen’s characters or will they diminish them? 

Moving away from Austen, one writer who does give an interesting read is Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea, her story of Bertha Mason, who became Mrs Rochester and ended her days as the madwoman in the attic at Thornfield Hall. Here Bertha is granted a voice which she is denied in Jane Eyre.

I quite liked Sally Beauman’s Rebecca’s Tale, her story of Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous Rebecca who is also denied her own voice as she is already dead. But I wonder what du Maurier would have made of this assessment? Rather more, I suspect, than of Susan Hill’s sequel, Mrs De Winter, which lacked much insight at all. And let’s say nothing about Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett, the appalling sequel to Gone With The Wind.

I’d be interested to hear your views on sequels, prequels, re-writes and spin-offs.

Friday 15 August 2014

How is your mental health today?

In the week that we learned the sad news of Robin Williams' suicide, the media has been full of issues concerning mental health and mental illness. The strongest messages are that mental illness can affect anyone and must not be stigmatised and the need for greater support for those needing help. Early intervention is key and can literally mean the difference between life and death and, perhaps even more importantly, can enhance the quality of life.

I have lost three friends to suicide. All three were intelligent, articulate, talented and well-liked men, but who carried burdens they could not shake off. Could they have been helped to prevent their deaths? Like most people who know someone who has taken their own life, I asked myself if I could have done more, could anyone have done more and the answer is still 'I don't know.'

H. had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his first year at Cambridge University. All too common a scenario. He didn't complete his degree but after treatment went on to work in his chosen field in computer technology and established his own business. H. looked well, he made good money and enjoyed the good things in life. Over a celebratory dinner for my birthday, he glanced around at the opulent dining room and with his customary grin, leant forward so the rather superior waiter would not hear and murmured, 'He looks as if he'd be horrified if he knew he'd just served a schizophrenic here at the Ritz.'

At the time many people, and all too frequently the media, portrayed schizophrenics as crazy, unpredictable people who were a danger to society and should be locked up. People who were not fit to be dining at the Ritz.

H. did not fit that view but the reality was that his illness was never very far away and so he too could be a little unpredictable at times. He sometimes felt safer not venturing out and became withdrawn. He didn't let people down but always let them know that he wouldn't be joining them at their party or whatever. What he feared most was that one day he would have auditory hallucinations that would tell him to do something dreadful. 'If I had voices telling me to kill someone, I think I'd believe that was what I had to do,' he told me. The fact that he'd never experienced hallucinations did not allay his fears. The negative media depictions of schizophrenia worked to fuel them. His anxiety made his paranoia worse and that inhibited his work, his social can see where this is going. When he wasn't well, H's world of paranoia and conspiracy theory seemed much more real to him than the world that most of us inhabited. 'Being sane is harder than being mad,' he said, 'because when you're obviously mad, no-one expects you to behave 'normally.' The rest of the time I have to make sure I act normal and not tell people my crazy theories in case they think I'm nuts!'

I wrote a small piece (the second half of which I later adapted and was awarded first prize in a 250 word flash fiction competition,) reflecting H's story for a mental health awareness day a while back to illustrate that mental illness can affect anyone including the good and beautiful. H. was both.

Double Viewpoint.

He glances at the opulent surroundings. His impression is one of pink grandeur. He tastes a mouthful of the exquisite dish the waiter has set before him and savours it with appreciation. For now, life is good. The past year has allowed some much needed respite, to enjoy life, take things easy. The doctor was right, he admits to himself, the medication and relaxation are a good prescription, but it will drive him mad to opt out for too long. It isn’t entirely time off; in effect he’s working uncover. He observes constantly, watching people, remembering faces, noting incidents. Even now, he’s studying those around him. Admittedly, here it’s only those with plenty of money at their disposal. He smiles at his wife, happy that she is enjoying herself - she deserves this treat. They haven’t often celebrated their wedding anniversary because he’s usually been away. To every other diner they look like a normal couple in early middle age, both attractive, affluent but quite ordinary. Only he knows the elegant façade hides a different story. Very soon his work will take over again – he’s aware that everybody thinks he’s crazy the way he works, but it has to be done. Still, the last twelve months have been fun; a weekend in Paris, punting on the Cam. Opera, theatre, concerts, good restaurants and now dinner at The Ritz. He’s enjoyed it all but it can’t last forever. Not long now, he thinks, before the real work will begin again.

She looks across at him; so handsome in his Italian suit, crisp white shirt and the beautiful silk tie they'd chosen together just a couple of months ago in Paris. Does she herself match up? He smiles back at her reassuringly. The past year has been one of glorious respite, and fun. Catching up on what they have missed in previous years. He looks well, on good form, funny, chatty, thoroughly good company but not quite so relaxed as in the last few months - not a good sign. His eyes are fixed on the piano player, that frown of concentration flickering on his brow. The one she has learned to trust as the harbinger. Has he taken all his medication? Please let him have taken it all. Seven and a half tablets are the lowest he can go before his thoughts become impossibly tangled and he goes crashing out into the stratosphere of insanity. There will be one chance only, as they make their way home, to ask him - while he is happy, communicative and still reasonable. If she misses that tiny opportunity he will spiral away. No more dinners at The Ritz, instead visits to the Priory. She appraises their fellow diners. To everyone else they look like a normal couple celebrating their marriage. Nobody else guesses they are a couple bound together, as much as they are separated, by his schizophrenia. 

After another long bout of illness, where depression also became a key factor, H. took his own life. I don't know his exact reasons but I believe the burdens he carried were simply too great to bear.

I miss his crazy conspiracy theories but most of all I miss his humour, his generosity, and his kindness. That last is perhaps the most important because people weren't always kind to him.


Tuesday 29 July 2014

A Versatile Blogger? Me?

Thank you to Patsy Collins for nominating me as a versatile blogger. Patsy's blog is one I follow slavishly because she finds out about all sorts of writing competitions and generously publicizes them on her blog along with snippets of her writing world. A number of her posts explore the varied meanings of words which are linked to writing competitions - take a look at Patsy's blog

My next task as a versatile blogger is to tell you seven random things about myself and then nominate another fifteen versatile bloggers, who are invited to do the same. The idea is of course to introduce our readers to blogs they may not have visited.

I've been told that one's blog should really focus on a subject you are passionate about with interesting and informative posts. My blog was originally created with the intention of focusing on writing, but it has stayed into other territories. All writers must read so book-talk must be allowed on a writing blog. Working as a speech and language therapist, I'm interested in language and communication in general so that sneaks in too - but again that is related. My other passion is travel so I can't help giving that a mention every now and again. I figure so long as I'm writing about travel then it's OK for a writing blog. So really that means writers can write about anything at all and it will count as perfectly relevant for a writing blog.

Whether this makes me versatile, disorganized or just incredibly well-rounded, I'm not sure. Now seven random facts...

1) I have been to Timbuktu.

2) I have three great-nephews - but am trying not to emulate my own great-aunt who smelled of peppermints and had whiskers.

3) I have danced on the stage of the Shaw Theatre in London (odd, considering that I can't dance).

4) I drink coffee but not tea.

5) The possession that I have had the longest is a small wooden cow that my sister brought back from Switzerland when I was four.

6) I once had dinner with George Clooney.  I never tell fibs.  I might have told the odd fib here and there, but prefer to call it poetic licence.

7) I have secretly cast most of the characters for the film for my unpublished book.

Here is a list of writerly blogs that I enjoy who I have nominated:

Wendy's Writing Now, but I know that Wendy has already been nominated.
Julie's Quest
Tina K Burton
The Elephant in the Writing Room
The Literary Pig
Helen Yendall's Writing blog
Cobbled Together
Dan's Adventures in Fiction
Living the Write Dream (ah, but Samantha has also been nominated already)
Get On With It
Rebeccah Writes
My Kind of London

And two from Greenacre Writers - whose work I have had the privilege to read and even critique!

The first from Helen whose blog focuses on OCD, with a lot of interesting and informative insights, The Reluctant Perfectionist. Helen has also written a novel with this theme at its core - and which I hope will soon to be published.

And last but not least, the blog from fellow Greenacre Writers founder Rosie Canning  who writes about writing but also about campaigns to assist care leavers. Rosie has written extensively on this subject both in her fiction and various articles.


Tuesday 1 July 2014

Words with JAM have now published the winning stories from the 2013 competitions judged by David Haviland (fiction agent for the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency), Polly Courtney (author of Feral Youth) and Susan Jane Gilman (author of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street). This is their second collection of work from new writers.

Words with JAM describes An Earthless Melting Pot: 'A heady mixture of stories, from romance to spine-chilling tension and from the virtual world to the extreme worlds of the self-deluded, these stories will take you to places you’ve never been before.'

A mixture of longer stories and flash fiction, I'm thrilled that my flash-fiction piece, Beneath the Arches, is included.

For more details see Words with JAM

Sunday 8 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 4

While Emily Benet was getting ready to greet the participants for her famous Social Media workshop, and several others were preparing the room for the festival's main event, I was in Waitrose shopping for speakers' gifts and lunch for the host of busy people who were making this festival happen. I filled my shopping bag, accompanied by one of Waitrose's staff who totted up my items and then waved me off, wishing me luck, without a single credit card or cash payment being made! I am not a shoplifter, but was taking advantage of the generous donation by Waitrose towards our festival.

When I arrived at Stephens House and Gardens the main room was set out and was being decorated with a beautiful floral display by Elisabeth while Mike and Robert were hanging the banner and putting posters all round the room. I helped out here and there and Rosie and I had a quick conference to make sure we each knew who was introducing whom and checked the timings as I'd printed the first set of timings rather than the slightly altered second set!

Rosie, Mike, Carol, Linda, Liz, Andrea,
Emily, Lindsay and Mark.
The sun was shining so I carried the picnic lunch out to the garden and set it out on one of the tables. The grounds were inviting but there wasn't time for an after lunch  stroll as we wanted to be ready to greet our speakers and guests.

Coming back in to the room, it looked marvellous. I remembered back when Rosie Canning and I held the first Greenacre Writers Mini Lit Fest two years ago saying to each other wouldn't it be wonderful to hold the lit fest in the home of Inky Stephens - Finchley's famous manufacturer of the ink that so many of us used in our schooldays. And two years on, here we were!

Soon our speakers had all arrived and the room was filling up and we were off. Rosie introduced our first speaker, Caitlin Davies. Her book The Ghost of Lily Painter was of great interest to the Finchleyites in the audience as it uncovers the story of two real women living in East Finchley who were baby farmers and were hanged in Holloway Prison in 1903. Caitlin told us how she got the idea to write this story and about some of her research.

I was pleased to welcome Alex Wheatle back to Finchley. He has supported the previous festivals, speaking at the first and appearing on the panel last year. Alex focused on his novel, Island Songs, set mostly in Jamaica. As well as visiting Jamaica himself, he based much of the book on stories his mother told him about growing up there.

Me at FLF ( photo: Donald Lyven)
Alex's talk was followed by readings from members of Greenacre Writers: Rosie Canning and Liz Goes, guest Emily Benet, June Armstrong-Wright and myself. During the break we bought books from Carmel of The Big Green Bookshop and the authors obligingly signed our copies. I had a very interesting chat with Rosie Fiore's four year old son, Ted, who popped in during the break with his dad to see how Mum was getting on. He looked a bit surprised when I asked Rosie to write in the book so she explained that while we didn't normally write in books it was alright when you'd written them! Ted looked at me solemnly and warned me that the book didn't have any pictures. I assured him that when I read all the words I would make the pictures up in my head, so that was OK.

Rosie Fiore, an author living in nearby Mill Hill, was the first speaker for the second part of the afternoon, telling us a little about her writing and reading from her book Wonder Women. We particularly appreciated the extract as it was set in Finchley!

Guest reader A.L.Michael then read an extract of her novel followed by readings from Greenacre Writers: Linda Louisa Dell, Katie Alford and Anna Meryt.

Allen Ashley then joined us to facilitate the panel discussion. Our three main speakers were joined by Miriam Halahmy discussing the concept of men writing women and women writing men. This opened in to a more general discussion about how writers were perceived.

 Rosie Fiore, Caitlin Davies, Allen Ashley,
Miriam Halahmy, & Alex Wheatle.
(photo: Rosie Canning)
Is one a writer or a female writer? Is one a writer or a black writer? How writers are perceived and marketed can be by sex or race or even genre. Rosie Fiore found she has been classified as a chick-lit writer - although she is actually writing about modern women managing families and businesses - but because it is commercial fiction and about women, mainly aimed at women readers, she is by de-fault a chick-lit writer. See Emily Benet's take on this on her blog: Emily Benet

The discussion was opened up to questions and comments from members of the audience and I think it could have gone on for another hour but 6.00pm was approaching so Allen brought the discussion to an end. While Rosie C. thanked our panel, I presented each with a small token of our appreciation along with the same to Robert and Elisabeth Newton and Mike Gee. Many people had contributed to the Finchley Literary Festival but we knew that if we thanked each person who had helped it to be the success it was, we'd be there for a considerable time, which might not have endeared us the staff who had to prepare the room for a wedding the next day.

It had been a hectic but fantastic week and I'm very proud to have been one of the people behind the Finchley Literary Festival.

Friday 6 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 3

After a working morning with a particularly difficult clinic, I was ready for a rest but I was keen to join Ruth Cohen's The Reader Organisation session. Ruth trained with The Reader Organisation as a volunteer in Barnet and holds regular sessions, open to all, in East Finchley. Paul Higgins the Barnet co-ordinator had come along too. It was good to meet him as we had exchanged many emails as I would love to train and volunteer but I think it needs to wait until I retire! 

Ruth Cohen
Ruth's session showed me a different way of reading. I'm generally quite a fast reader and sometimes  just whizz  through books, but here we read a short story pausing to reflect and speculate on the characters and events. This is not intended to be a literary critique as we might undertake for a critiquing session in a writing group, but was more of an exchange of ideas and suggestions. Who, why, when? More akin to the close reading technique one learns on academic literary courses but this enabled us to express our ideas and values rather than gathering evidence for a meaty essay.

After the short story we read a poem and, like others who attended, I felt the session had been a refreshing and relaxing interlude in an otherwise very hectic week. I left ready to do the shopping for more floral tributes for the next set of festival speakers.

While I was enjoying this bit of time out, Maggie Butt was presenting her poetry workshop at East Finchley Library and then after a break, made her way to Friern Barnet Community Library for a talk about our famous local landmark, Alexandra Palace. The evening opened with a fascinating talk from Mick Crick about Private John Parr, the first soldier to be killed in WW1. He was a local lad from North Finchley and joined up when he was underage. There is still confusion about the exact details of his death and why he was not reported as killed for some months. Mick's research has answered a number of questions but many remain.

Maggie Butt's talk was about the German civilians who were interred as enemy aliens. Ally Pally housed some 3,000 men, many of whom had been born in England but held German passports. Her talk was highlighted by extracts of letters and poems written by the men and with illustrations of photos, and paintings by internee, George Kenner. While I had been aware that Ally Pally had been an interment camp, Maggie's talk brought to life the harsh reality of these men's lives and those of their families who had to make do as best they could without their husbands, often in the face of antipathy and prejudice from former neighbours.

I would have loved to have joined Paul Baker's 'Literary Finchley' walk on Friday morning but there was too much to organise. Armed with floral and chocolate tributes I made my way to Church End Library where Mike, Rosie and I prepared the dragons' den for the Dragon's Pen event. After some furniture removal and hoovering, the lair was ready. I was the first victim. I made a brief pitch to Gillian Stern, Cari Rosen and Mary Musker, and read aloud the first 400 words of my chick-lit for the mature woman ('meno-lit') novel. They asked a few questions including if my novel was based on my life. I admitted that some aspects resembled reality but certainly not all - and that the 'gorgeous hero' was completely a figment of my imagination. Shame.

Guarding the dragons.
After my 5 minutes was up, I became a dragon guard with Rosie, ushering each new candidate to the den and timing them very strictly. One of the fourteen pitchers will be chosen for some mentoring sessions and while each of us hopes to be the chosen one, we all agreed that if even we are not chosen, presenting our work in this way was a valuable experience in the art of promoting our writing!

Allen Ashley
The next event, after some brief downtime in which I actually did a bit of housework, was the Spoken Word  at Friern Barnet Community Library. Facilitated with expertise by Allen Ashley fresh from his Getting Started writing workshop a little earlier, we were treated to a mix of poems, prose, non-fiction and even a couple of songs by writers, many of whom were local. Allen read some of his own poems and I particularly enjoyed 'Mill Hill Boys'. Allen was a Finchley boy so could he ever truly be one of those cool punk musicians - the boys from Mill Hill? As it happens one of those Mill Hill boys was firmly behind getting Friern Barnet Library re-opened as a community library. The library is situated opposite the former Colney Hatch Hospital - a Victorian Lunatic Asylum - so for this event I wrote a monologue based on the life of a real woman who died there having been incarcerated for 39 years. Her story is fascinating as she was the only woman to have served on the front line during WW1- having disguised herself as man. I aimed to encapsulate her story in a five minute monologue. Local MP, Theresa Villiers, attended the event and wrote a piece about the Spoken Word on her blog, and I can't help feeling pleased that she mentioned my piece: Theresa Villiers.

Just two more events to go - including, of course, the Grand Finale.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Finchley Literay Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 2

Tuesday evening saw me off to my local library for another FLF event,  the workshop on Self Publishing by two local authors, Liz Goes and Linda Louisa Dell who have chosen this publishing route. By the time I arrived it was standing room only!
Linda Louisa Dell
Liz Goes
Self publishing has really taken off but there are pitfalls to beware of so Liz and Linda pointed plenty of these out. They both recommended using the best package one could afford and especially use the services of an editor either in the package or independently. Linda emphasized that publishing is the easy bit - the hard part is the promotion, which needs huge input if you are to make sales, no matter how good the product. Liz gave us information on the varying self-publishing packages and a list of useful sources. She also explained about the ALCS. Overall, a useful talk for those considering this process.

I wasn't able to get to AL Michael's 'Write Here, Write Now' writing workshop for kids on Wednesday but Murni talks about it here on the Greenacre Writers blog, along with the other events she attended.

Theresa Musgrove
My next event was Theresa Musgrove's talk on Dickens' link with Finchley. Theresa is also known as Mrs Angry, one of the famous Barnet Bloggers, who is famed for her outspoken views on what is wrong with our local council. She has a huge following so I wasn't surprised to find Church End Library packed, with more people coming in after we'd used all the chairs. It is well known that Dickens stayed in Cobley Farm near Bow Lane in Finchley, where he wrote much of Martin Chuzzlewit and that in The Old Curiosity Shop, Mr Garland lives in Abel Cottage in Finchley, but Theresa's  thorough research came up with several more links to Finchley and nearby areas such as Hendon.
At the end of her fascinating talk, Mike gave thanks but to his horror the bouquet of flowers was not ready for him to present to her. It was eventually located in the library staff-room but when it did arrive was of colours that nicely matched Theresa's outfit.

Mike, Lucy and Rosie
A couple of hours later we were back at the library for Mike Gee's slideshow of Finchley's green spaces - Mike has charted and photographed every one - with associated readings. We were treated to extracts of Wind in the Willows, Betjeman's poems and a host of other readings by Mike, Rosie Canning, Lucy Nowell, and Donald Lyven carefully timed to match the picture sequences, but the reading that got the biggest round of applause was Lucy's recitation of local funny man Spike Milligan's On The Ning Nang Nong. Helping pack the chairs away afterwards I realised we were exactly half-way through the festival.

Monday 2 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 1.

The Finchley Lit fest was a huge success  -  the twenty events had good attendance and brought not only local people together but attracted people from further afield too.

I wasn't able to attend all the events, partly because I was working in the mornings, but I managed to get to as many as I could. For info about the first event see Rosie's blog Cli-Fi workshop

The first I attended was Anna Meryt's Poetry and Music Palooza. Apart from helping with a bit of furniture removal, I was simply a member of the audience and settled in with a lovely cup of Café Buzz coffee to enjoy the performances from musicians and performance poets. I wasn't disappointed and the informal café atmosphere added to the enjoyment. Rosie's blog has pictures here Poetry and Music Palooza and for a video see Highgate Poets' blog.

Greenacre Writer's Murni.
The next afternoon I was back, this time as an organiser. While a helper and I carefully re-arranged some furniture - around diners who were enjoying lunch, we had a break until the microphone and amp arrived. I'd just sat down when I recognized Sal Page, our first prize winner, coming in. She'd travelled from Morecambe, staying the previous night in Coventry. While she'd visited London on a number of occasions this was, unsurprisingly, her first visit to Finchley! I greeted her and as we chatted I felt as if I'd known her for ages - mainly through Twitter and Facebook. Soon Rosie, fellow GW anthology editor, arrived followed by Mike with the equipment and with a bit more hustle and bustle we were ready. Sal opened with her prize-winning story 'Flapjack' and was followed by Andy Byrne a runner up, who travelled a little less far from neighbouring Muswell Hill with 'Authors In Residence,' as well as Greenacre Writers who read from their stories, making a varied programme. Everybody made sure they ended on something of a cliff-hangar to encourage listeners to buy the anthology.
On Tuesday Rosie and I made a quick visit to Waterstones to see how the three YA authors, Miriam Halahmy , Gina Blaxill and Lil Chase were getting on. I helped blow up a few balloons and Rosie went in search of families to suggest they pop in to see what was going on. The authors had organised a quiz for young people with prizes as well giveaways and it was soon proving very popular.

The next event was Bettina von Cossel's talk on crime writing. Not only was Bettina an excellent speaker, she'd brought props to enliven the talk. She donned the highest of high heels to demonstrate how one could 'accidentally' totter into an unwanted husband at the top of an escalator but if that failed, instructed us to get our characters to don trainers and try the same ruse on top of the cliffs at Eastbourne. The talk was 'How to Kill Your Darlings' and we were getting some useful tips! A recipe that might be useful was minced daffodil bulbs mixed with onion.

Bettina showed us her famous chair in which she found an ancient blood-stained knife - the knife was not on display but she used a  cardboard knife to graphically demonstrate a throat cutting! The victim was her son and I'm pleased to say no sons were harmed in the process. The point, of course, was how accuracy is all important to make crime writing believable. Research is key!  It was a highly entertaining and informative talk.

Only 15 more events to go.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Greenacre Writers Anthology Volume 3

It's a week until the launch of Greenacre Writers Anthology Volume 3. As last year, the launch is being held at North Finchley's literary café, Café Buzz.

The anthology comprises the six winning stories from the 2013 GW short story competition, judged by Alex Wheatle, along with stories from members of Greenacre Writers making 17 stories in all.

On receiving a copy of last year's anthology a friend of mine remarked: 'Oh, it's quite small, isn't it?' Just as well as I think I might have hit him over the head with a copy and if I'd have chosen to clock him with the Oxford Companion to English Literature, which features in Andrew Byrne's story, the outcome might have been unfortunate as several literary giants in his story discovered. (You'll have to come to along to hear it.)

My reaction was because even a small volume takes a huge amount of work to produce. This year's was no exception. Work began on it as soon as Alex had selected the competition winners.

The stories all had to re-formatted to the anthology lay-out and style - such as matching speech marks, dashes and spacing. Then came a read through to ensure no errors had been made in the process. The stories from the Greenacre Writers had to be proof-read, edited and formatted in the same way then we asked each contributor for an author bio which were duly edited and formatted along with our introduction and the title pages.

Once they were all put together, the whole thing was proof read again by three volunteers. The index was formulated with lots of cross-checking.

Then came the fun bit. In previous years our printer used printed out pages but now works from PDFs which in theory should have been simple but alas, here my PC developed a glitch and the format went a bit mad. Let's just say several cups of coffee and possibly a bar of chocolate or two might have been needed to help me sort out the glitch. There might have been the therapeutic use of some rude words as well.

In the meantime the cover picture was chosen from a selection of possibles and formatted. We used the same style as the previous editions so at least no choices had to made on that front. Then when the proofs came back from the printer they had to be checked - and yes there was something, a little something, that had to be corrected.

So, the volume might be quite small but it still takes a lot of work, which I admit, reading back through what I just wrote, actually sounds as if it took only a couple of hours.

Most importantly, let's not forget the hours of work that each author put into their story in the first place. Without their effort and hard work we wouldn't have an anthology at all so this launch is a thank you to all our authors.

At the launch a number of them including our first prize winner, Sal Page, will be reading extracts.

You'll hear about the events that led to a recipe with a difference, the perils of joining a reading group and meet an old man who sits on a bench in all weathers. You will hear an updated version of a Chaucerian tale, and find out what happened to that Oxford Companion of English Literature. What happens when there is a split in time? And does someone's mistake cause a divorce or a wedding? And just what is the best way to get to Zanzibar?

To find out join us Café Buzz and sip a cappuccino or have a piece of delicious cake with your tea and hear what we have to offer. Copies of the anthology will be on sale for the launch price of just £5.00 (cash or cheque only.)

Sunday 25th May at 3.00pm, Café Buzz, 783 High Road, North Finchley, N12 8JY.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Finchley Literary Festival: May 24th - 31st 2014

When I welcomed our audience to the Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival on 26th May 2012, I said something like 'this year it's a mini lit fest, next year it will be a lit fest - then, move over Hay-on Wye'. It was meant as a joke of course but I'm beginning to think I wasn't so far off the mark. From one event that year, the following year we had four events: two workshops, an Open Mic and the main speakers' event. This year there has been an explosion of events - something for everyone, of all ages.
Greenacre Writers decided to re-invent the festival as Finchley Literary Festival so as to include the wider writing community in and around Finchley and that proved an excellent move. 
This year's festival has a huge variety of events:  talks, Meet the Author book signings, writing workshops, a social media workshop, a literary slideshow of Finchley, a literary walk, the main events with three authors and much more!

Sponsorship from the main venue, Stephens House and GardensThe Finchley Society  Greenacre Writers along with Squires Estates and Waitrose, Finchley means that most events are free or are very reasonably priced. No, actually I mean cheap.

All the events are listed here on Greenacre Writers - FLF blog. Keep an eye on this for updates.

I am involved with the launch of the Greenacre Writers Anthology Volume 3 on Sunday 25th May at 3.00-5.00pm at Café Buzz, the literary café of Finchley. Grab a cup of delicious coffee and listen to readings from the anthology by the authors - including Sal Page the winner of the first prize from last year's competition, 783 High Road, N12 8JY.

I'll also be reading at the Spoken Word on Friday 30th May at 7.00-10.00pm at Friern Barnet Community Library, Friern Barnet Road, N11 3DS. Last year this event was a wonderful mix of literary genres and styles and I'm sure this year will offer an exciting mix of literary brilliance.

I will also be involved in the Main Event on Saturday 31st May which kicks off at 2.00pm at Stephens House and Gardens, 17 East End Road, N3 3QE.

Alex Wheatle, who spoke the first festival and joined the discussion panel last year, will join  Caitlin Davies and Rosie Fiore. They will discuss their latest work and give readings. There will also be readings from members of Greenacre Writers, Emily Benet and A.L. Michael who are on the festival's organizing committee. This event will followed by a discussion panel facilitated by Allen Ashley. You can book tickets for the Main Event and debate  here.

It promises to be a wonderful afternoon and I hope the weather will be sunny so we can all enjoy a wander in the gorgeous gardens during the break and after the event. When I first came to live in Finchley I lived nearby in a second floor flat and I adopted this garden as 'my' garden! You will also be able to take a look at the little museum featuring Inky Stephens, the inventor of Stephens Ink. How many writers have used that I wonder? Perhaps not many now, but I certainly remember using it at school. Read about it here.
I'll be attending as many of the other events as I can as they all promise to be stimulating and interesting. Please join me and help make this festival the best one yet.


Monday 24 February 2014

World Book Night 2014

I was pleased to receive an email from World Book Night telling me I have been selected as a giver for 2014. This is the fourth year I have been involved and I am looking forward to giving away the books from April 23rd. Unlike the previous three years, I wasn’t allocated my first two choices (A Collection of Short Stories by Roald Dahl and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne) so will be giving away Confessions of a GP by Benjamin Daniels.

There has been considerable controversy about WBN – some people claim that to give books away devalues them and their writers while others believe it helps promote literature and reading. Some givers have not entered into the spirit of the concept and have apparently given the books to their friends rather than reaching out to those who may not be able to readily access books. I have been sorry to see some WBN books in the local charity shop that I support, which is not the intended idea; they are to be given away not sold – even for a small amount which will help a worthy cause. 

But on balance I think WBN is an excellent idea. Some of the books I gave away were received with such joy, that in itself made the world a better place.

One of my patients has been dogged by depression for many years. Unable to work, she lives on a small income, spending little on any sort of luxury. She makes herself get up every day, but admits to having no routine. She knows in theory she could get out and make use of some of the local resources such as libraries and community groups but lacks the confidence and motivation. She describes herself as a total mess. Her only pleasures are her little dog and reading.

On her last session with me, I handed her a copy of WBN’s The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and asked if she would like to have it. She was thrilled, and promised me she would bring it back as soon as she finished it.

‘You may pass it on to a friend if you like but if you would prefer to keep it, you may. It’s yours.’ I told her.

Her face lit up. It was a picture. ‘This is the best thing that’s happened to me for a long time,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’


This is what WBN says about my book.

Hilarious, insightful and eye-opening, Confessions of a GP is the perfect book to entice people who 'don't like stories' into reading. Told in a confessional and casual style you quickly feel like you're sitting alongside Dr Daniels as dozens of little stories about real people's lives play out before you.
Dr Benjamin Daniels is a GP. That is as much as we can reveal about him and we're sad he'll never be able to show off to his mates or patients about being on the WBN list


Monday 10 February 2014

Will there be good news?

I have recently discovered a number of similarities between going through a period of illness and the process of writing.
Both are stressful. 
Both involve periods of feeling awful about myself interspersed with bursts of optimism that things are going to get better.

Waiting around for tests (blood tests, MRI scans, CT scans, ultrasound scans, nuclear scans – I’ve had them all) is like waiting around for inspiration to strike. Sometimes the wait is long and can be very uncomfortable.

Then after the tests, having to wait for the results. Some come quickly, some take a while and all the time I’m hoping for good news this time. Just like submitting writing (after inspiration eventually arrives) and waiting for the outcome - a competition win or a sale. Either way - hoping for good news but knowing I have to gear up for probable disappointment.

That last story I submitted – could this one be a winner at last? I feel optimistic about it, it’s one of my best yet. Then I wonder whether it's any good at all. Will this last test show the latest medication is working? Surely it’s doing the trick – I’ve felt a bit better in the past couple of days – but then I feel worse.

Illness and writing can both be incredibly lonely. Fortunately both have supports groups - where people in the same situation get together online or in person and empathise with the disappointments and celebrate the successes. Such groups are life savers offering support when it is most needed. Fellow thyroid cancer patients share knowledge, ideas and good old sympathy and my writing friends are a source of information, inspiration and support too. Thank you to both groups.

A letter lands on the mat. An email pings into the in-box…will it be good news? 

After lots of disappointments I've now had one small piece of good news with writing: my piece Beneath the Arches was awarded third place in Words With Jam shorter story category. You can read it here thanks to judge Polly Courtney: Beneath the Arches 

Onwards and upwards...

Wednesday 1 January 2014

A New Year - a new start...

It was with enormous sadness that I made the decision to leave Greenacre Writers, the writers’ group I had co-founded and co-organised for almost five years.

The last two years have been a challenge; although I was determined not to let a diagnosis of thyroid cancer in 2012 change my life, it has inevitably had an impact on my energy and that has had an dampening effect on my writing creativity. Perhaps if I wasn’t working virtually full time and wasn’t busy co-organising three thriving writing groups, an annual short story competition, editing an anthology and helping organise a small literary festival, I’d have written a block-buster or a Booker prize winner by now. Although I suspect not.

I carried on as best I could – I took part in the first Greenacre Mini Lit fest, wondering what my consultant would be telling me the following Monday - whether the biopsy a couple of weeks earlier would prove what we suspected. It did. 

I was able to carry out my commitment to run a course for beginners at Swanwick Writers Summer School in between the two operations. My brilliant surgeon actually scheduled a special operating list so I wouldn’t have to miss it or cancel the holiday booked for two weeks later. I recovered from the op on a wonderful holiday in Tanzania with a trip to Zanzibar where I found a place perfect for writing – in theory anyway. I didn’t actually write anything.

Last January, in a bid to make myself write, I signed up to Write One Sub One – I chose the cushier option of one a month and have been true to my aim. I made 20 submissions altogether, from the smallest – a 75 word flash to a fairly big competition.
Now here comes the hard part. What became of my submissions? Very little, I’m afraid.  2013 started off on a high with an email saying a piece I had submitted to Café Lit had been selected for The Best of Cafe Lit 2012 and a few days later I received a prize from Writing Magazine for a flash fiction competition, but my 2013 submissions fared less well. My first, a short story, was shortlisted in the Chudleigh Phoenix competition but the next nine came to nothing. One of my stories, Chocolate in Summer, was included Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 2 but after all, I was a co-editor! I had a flash fiction shortlisted in Flash 500 and a 75 worder published on Paragraph Planet inspired by my two weeks of jury service in June. 

I did manage a bit of writing while hanging around in the jurors' lounge waiting to be called into court and thought my creativity was on the up. But the scans the week before the second Greenacre Writers Lit Fest the previous month indicated all was not well which led to my second round of radio-active iodine the week after jury service. My energy plummeted to zero again. A 100 word flash was accepted by Café Lit then - nothing. The last four submissions are still under consideration so fingers crossed.

Only the flash fiction pieces and one short story have been written in the last year. In spite of meeting submission deadlines my writing has been limited because of lack of energy (a normal outcome of my condition and the radio-treatment.) Stress of any kind now zaps me out so I had to do something drastic. And sadly, because of other issues, one of the things I have had to let go is Greenacre Writers.

I have met some wonderful writers through the groups and the two lit fests, made many friends, and my writing has (I think) improved so now I have to get down to it and prove it.
I wish you all a very happy  New Year - and great writing success.